In the fast-paced world of veterinary medicine, it’s easy to get anxious about certain things. You often deal with life-or-death scenarios, angry pet owners, and fractious pets. If you’re constantly feeling on edge, but can’t quite put your finger on why, it’s time to slow down and do some thinking. Here are some tips for identifying what stresses you out and how to handle it, courtesy of Ryerson University professor Martin Antony.
1. Get to know your anxiety.
Before you can take steps to reduce it, you need to understand the nature of your discomfort. Here are examples of some questions to ask yourself:
> What triggers my anxiety? Are there particular situations that make me uncomfortable?
> What thoughts and predictions contribute to my anxiety? Do I worry what others may think about me? Do I worry that others may view me as stupid, boring or unattractive? Do I worry about being embarrassed or humiliated?
> What physical symptoms do I experience in social situations? Do I blush, sweat, shake, or lose my train of thought?
2. Challenge your anxious thinking.
Rather than assuming your anxiety-provoking beliefs and predictions are true, treat these thoughts as guesses about how things may be. Next, look at the evidence for your anxious thoughts. For example, if you assume that other people will find you incompetent, what evidence do you have for this belief? Is there evidence that people find you perfectly competent?
How might you cope with some people not thinking you’re perfect? Is it really important to be liked by everyone, or is that belief just your anxiety talking? Try to shift the way you think about social situations and look at them the way someone without social anxiety might think about them.
3. Don’t avoid situations you fear—confront them.
We all avoid situations that make us nervous. We make excuses to get out of doing things we don’t want to do, and we find subtle ways to protect ourselves in situations that make us uncomfortable. Unfortunately, avoiding situations and relying on safety behaviors helps keep anxiety alive. One of the most powerful ways to overcome anxiety involves purposely exposing yourself to the situations you fear, over and over again, until you feel more comfortable. So confront that cranky client or meet with bickering team members to help them squash the beef. Of course, doing this means being prepared to feel uncomfortable during the first few “exposure” practices.
Learn to tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity, Antony says. Create a list of possible outcomes for the situation you are facing and consider ways of dealing with each one. Accept your inability to control the outcomes, but recognize that you can control your reaction. Before long, you’ll feel the stress melting away.